Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Sustainability R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and More

This week I heard an educator for sustainability from the United Arab Emirates talk via skype at the CELF summer institute about the 6R’s of sustainability, rather than the more familiar 3R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle).  Respect and refuse were two of the additional R's she listed, but I could not recall the 6th R.  I immediately googled 6R’s and found that rather than a standardized list of 6Rs, there are a whole slew of sustainability R’s offered on different web pages.  That got me thinking, how many sustainability R’s should we have?  Which are the most important? 

Here are some of the contenders I found (starting with the big 3):

1.     Reduce
2.     Reuse
3.     Recycle
4.     Respect
5.     Refuse
6.     Replenish
7.     Rethink
8.     Repair
9.     Reinvent
10.  Recover
11.  Responsibility
12.  Replant
13.  Restore
14.  Rot

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The classic 3R’s of sustainability were on all of the lists I found. 

By reducing the amount of “stuff” we obtain, we decrease the energy needed for manufacture, transport and disposal.   We also cause less disruption to the ecosystems where the materials originate, are transported through and are disposed.  Life on a finite world, with finite resources, always involves limits.

The more we can reuse items and avoid single use items, the better.  Take a look at my earlier post on the humble handkerchief vs. the throw-away tissue.  

There has been a huge shift across the country from throwing most waste into the trash, to recycling a large portion of it.  Single-stream recycling is changing the amount of recycling done by many households.  Check out yesterday's post on recycling.  

The new Sustainability R’s:
Here are some of the additional sustainability R's I found in my search.

Respect and Responsibility both ask us to think about the ecosystem, including the people who live around the world, and think about any effects our actions might have.

To me, refuse fits within the category reduce.  By refusing items, we are essentially reducing our consumption.  This month of July, many in the sustainability community are encouraging others to refuse single-use disposable plastic items.  At ReduceFootprints blog this week’s #CTWW challenge is to refuse plastic bags.

Replenish, replant, restore, recover all seem to convey a similar theme: trying to leave the world as we found it for those who come after us. 

Rethink/reinvent promote divergent/out-of-the-box thinking.  As is often attributed to Einstein, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."  This is a critical part of sustainability and one that I think should definitely be highlighted.  By rethinking, we also make sure to view actions from different perspectives and consider how they will effect different constituencies of our planet. 

Repair/renew might be lumped together with the replenish  group in terms of repairing the environment for future generations.  However, they can also be thought of as repairing or renewing an item so that it may be reused. 

Rot – I found this on a list of R's  to represent composting, mulching and other parts of the cycle.  Growing up, my family collected kitchen scraps for our garden well before composting became remotely fashionable.  

Here are some more R's I’ve thought of:
Reflect, Realize, Relate, Rotate, Remember, Return, Remediate

I like Return, because it conveys a sense of a full circle, rather than a linear path.  I think ultimately we should be thinking “cradle to cradle” for all items we use, in other words, consider the entire cycle so that there is no “waste” product at any point.  This will be the subject for a future post.

What would your sustainability R’s be?
Are there any R's that are not mentioned that you would include?

(This post was shared on Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop.)


  1. This is a fabulous list of R's! What I like about it is that it goes way beyond our immediate actions and makes us think before doing anything. It is a very holistic approach! Thanks so much for sharing this post!

    1. Yes, I like how these new R's expand our thinking. I love the way you contrast our immediate actions with a more systems thinking approach. Of all the R's, rethinking is crucial.

    2. Oh I like that ... "systems thinking approach"! :-)

    3. Glad you do! For more info on systems thinking, take a look at .

  2. I now have more Rs to add to my list! I think the one that makes the biggest impact is Repair. Whether that be an article of clothing or something as major as pieces of furniture, it saves money and space needing to house it if thrown out. Great post.

    1. Repair is a really important one. It would be great if more people learned how to repair items or found other people who knew how to repair things rather than throwing things out. What I love about a lot of these R's is how they have multiple meanings. Repair is also important in terms of repairing friendships and repairing the world.

  3. Hi Lisa,
    What an enlightening 'green' mind map! I applaud and embrace each of these additional Rs. I especially love the addition of respect, refuse and rethink/reinvent. Thank you for sharing these valuable insights at the Healthy, Happy, Green and Natural Party Blog Hop. I appreciate it! Pinning and sharing!

    1. Deborah- Yes, respect, refuse and rethink/reinvent allow us to expand the mantra of reduce, reuse recycle, and really put our minds to work. Thanks so much for sharing this post!

  4. My big one, left out of your list, is RELATIONSHIPS.
    The only way forward is to foster and build sustainable relationships that allow communities to change and commit to a sustainable future , approach and lifestyle.
    Also sustainable relationships are about preventing war (how damaging is that to the planet) and points to ways beyond adversarial and competitive and 'growth' perspectives that encourage the depletion of nature. I promote/teach 5 R's: reduce reuse recycle, Rethink and Relationships. cheers, Helen Rodd

    1. Helen, I love this! I agree completely that ‘relationships’ belongs on the list of R’s and that sustainable relationships are a crucial part of a sustainable future. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

  5. We have been parallel thinking, for years I've promoted further actions that you have realized. Well done.


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